A quiet protest of the spending bill, a loud chorus of senators ready to move on

Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., briefly speaks to reporters in Washington on Thursday.

By David Weigel The Washington Post 

WASHINGTON - The last time that Congress tumbled into a government shutdown - all of three weeks ago - the Capitol was abuzz. Liberal groups staged a rally in upper Senate Park, cheering on Senate Democrats as they demanded a Dream Act as part of any spending bill. The party’s leaders sniped back and forth on the Senate floor, framing the debate, blaming one another for disaster.

The mood during Friday morning’s shutdown was funereal, if not bored. Many of the undocumented immigrants who had rallied across the Capitol and its office buildings had left for the day, leaving the hallways and the parks outside dark and quiet. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., the retiring Democrat who has been one of the immigrants’ most active supporters, ate a quiet dinner with a few activists, saying in earshot of reporters that there were perhaps 60 Democratic votes in the House to pass a spending deal without a carve-out for them.


‘‘I think the young people are pretty dejected right now,’’ said Winnie Wong, an organizer who had participated in their protests.

There was little visible support for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who was forcing the second short-term shutdown of his career. In 2015, when his filibuster briefly halted the renewal of the Patriot Act - and when the presidential primaries were gearing up - dozens of supporters rallied outside.

This time, there were some supportive tweets, and one supporter of Paul clad in a ‘‘Students for Rand’’ T-shirt from his campaign waited on the second floor of the Senate to cheer him. (He declined to give his name.)

That was it for the cheering gallery. Paul’s colleagues were more than happy to jeer. On the floor, a few Republicans took turns trying to end Paul’s protest by asking for unanimous consent.

‘‘You haven’t convinced 60 senators or 51 senators that your idea is good enough for them to support,’’ said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who had campaigned with Paul during his come-from-behind 2014 victory. ‘‘Go to work. Build a coalition. Make a difference. You can make a point all you want. But points are forgotten. There’s not a whole lot of history books about the great points of the American Senate.’’


As they trudged to the 1 a.m. vote to advance the spending bill, Paul’s colleagues bemoaned a ‘‘pointless’’ evening; at best it had burned up hours of their lives, and at worst it had drained momentum for the bill’s arrival in the House.

‘‘He wasted a lot of people’s time,’’ said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. ‘‘I understand what he’s saying and a lot of what he’s saying is true, but at the same time, he’s tilting at windmills.’’

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who chairs the Republican effort to keep or expand their Senate majority, was also among the eye-rollers. ‘‘There’s a certain strategy someone has tonight and I guess I don’t know what it is,’’ he said.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., arrived at the vote wearing an Eagles cap, reflecting on how brinkmanship had stopped him and other fans of the Super Bowl-winning team from celebrating.

‘‘You know, I had tickets to the Eagles/Vikings game, which I missed because of the shutdown,’’ said Coons. ‘‘What a wonderful confluence of events that I missed the Eagles parade today because of the shutdown.’’

And Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., headed into the vote with a fresh worry: Had shutdowns already become rote?


‘‘I’m not sure what Senator Paul set out to accomplish here,’’ said Heinrich. ‘‘I do worry that this is becoming too comfortable for too many people.’’